The United States has said it will "evaluate" its next steps on the crisis in Niger after France announced a full troop withdrawal by the end of 2023, as demanded by the as demanded by the military junta in Niamey.
As it stands, France currently holds a force of 1,500 soldiers stationed in Niger as part of an anti-jihadist deployment in the Sahel region, while the United States 1,100 military personnel deployed in the country.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Monday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said, "While we give diplomacy a chance, we will also continue to evaluate any future steps that would prioritise both our diplomatic and security goals."
He stressed Washington had "not made any significant change to our force postures and ... we really want to see a diplomatic solution, a peaceful end [to the crisis]."
Military cooperation is 'over'
This comes as French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Sunday that France would withdraw its ambassador from Niger shortly, with French troops leaving by the year's end.
The decision came two months after the 26 July coup ousted pro-Paris President Mohamed Bazoum.
Macron added that military cooperation was "over" and French troops would withdraw in "the months and weeks to come" with a full pull-out "by the end of the year".
🇫🇷 President Emmanuel #Macron on Sunday announced that #France would withdraw its ambassador from #Niger, followed by the French military contingent in the coming months.🪖 The move was welcomed by Niger's military leaders as a "step towards sovereignty". pic.twitter.com/73EBE58JLb-- FRANCE 24 English (@France24_en) September 25, 2023
On 7 September, the Pentagon had announced that some US soldiers were being transferred as a precaution from a base in the capital Niamey to an air base to the north in the Agadez region.
According to Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh, "We'll do an assessment of what it means for France to ... have its troops withdraw from Niger, but right now, we're just focused on continuing that move."
The United States reportedly resumed surveillance flights over Niger on 18 September - which had been halted by the coup - with other operations remaining on hold.
In the wake of the July coup, tens of thousands had taken to the streets of Niamey in support of the junta and the demand for the French ambassador and troops to leave, but Niamey remained calm on Monday following Macron's announcement.
The military regime welcomed the French pullout saying, "This Sunday, we celebrate a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger."
It said in a statement read out on national television: "This is an historic moment, which speaks to the determination and will of the Nigerien people."
Early Tuesday, the coup leaders added that they wanted to establish a "negotiated framework" for the withdrawal of French troops.